Review: Icebird for iPhone

The biggest draw of Icebird (aside from the gorgeous design) is all of the space in the app. I don’t think the developers have used that as a selling point, but it’s certainly what intrigues me most about this Twitter client: there’s just so much room between buttons and between tweets.

This is bound to annoy some users and make them wonder why all of the features aren’t in the same place, but I think it’s a refreshing approach to the information-rich world of Twitter.

Giant Hub for multiple accounts
I don’t use multiple Twitter accounts, but for those that do, Icebird has implemented a paging system for its main screen, so you can simply flick through your various accounts. This system probably works best if you have just two or three accounts to manage — any more than that, and you’re better off using another app that shows your accounts in a list for faster access.

The main screen consists of a gorgeous set of six buttons: Timeline, Replies, Messages, Lists, Favorites, and Search. There’s actually a seventh button — the one for your account — but it’s sandwiched in between the six, and doesn’t really look like a button at first glance. There aren’t any unread counts, but the buttons will glow when new content is loaded.

The bottom of the screen features a slide-up menu with access to trends, your account management page, and app settings. This hub takes the place of the bottom bar in most Twitter apps, and although I usually prefer to have everything on one screen, I’ve come to really appreciate the clean design of Icebird’s main screen.

Big Timeline is Big
For every five tweets that Tweetie 2 can display on the screen, Icebird can usually only display four. That ends up as a bit more scrolling when you wake up to a morning’s worth of tweets, but it’s also easier on the eyes. There are only two visible buttons on the timeline, favourites, replies, and message screens: one that returns you to the main screen, and another to create a new tweet.

Even tapping is simplified in Icebird: you’ll have to tap on a tweet before you can access its links, see other tweets in a conversation, or even view a profile. This is quite different from the always-on context sensitive timelines of other Twitter clients, but I also haven’t mis-tapped anything in Icebird. Everything in the app is shown in a very specific order, and, for better or for worse, the whole experience is very Mac-like.

There are no special slide or double-tap gestures, but you can tap and hold on a tweet to activate a pop-up menu (like the cut and paste dialogue) to reply, favourite, or retweet. I can confirm that this feature works on 3.1.2, but not on 4.0 beta 1.

New Tweets
Tweeting options in Icebird are pretty basic aside from the standard 140 character text box. You can add your location, add a photo or video, and call up an address book for the purpose of @mentioning. Drafts can be saved for later access on the main screen.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any landscape mode for any of Icebird’s screens, and I do find that a little disappointing. I don’t think landscape is needed for most of Twitter, but I’ve grown to like the landscape keyboard as of late, and would have liked to use it in Icebird as well.

Users of URL shorteners might also be disappointed by Icebird’s relegation of the feature to a Safari bookmarklet (accessible in Icebird settings). This minimizes the number of buttons that the app needs to display, but it also isn’t quite as simple as just having the option built into the app.

Using Icebird
One of the first things I noticed about Icebird is how fast it is. Part of it has to do with the caching of tweets as you load them, but there are very few seconds of loading throughout any given session: you just tap on a button and the next screen shows up (on my 3GS, anyway). Lists are easy to manage and view, and the list view is the only screen in the app to use a bottom-bar.

Everything else in Icebird is simply content, and two buttons along the top (though there is a hidden search bar, and pull to refresh if you scroll up). The UI is very consistent — although probably a little too much so. There are certain aspects, like the Twitter timeline, that are already so content-rich and fast-paced that the extra room in Icebird is appreciated. However, there are other areas, like the profile views, that would have benefited from bottom bars instead of the current scroll-heavy lists of buttons.

The final area where Icebird tends to pale in comparison to other Twitter clients is deep navigation. Twitter can be a lot like YouTube. You peek at one profile, see who the person follows, and then tap on and on just to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. In Tweetie 2 you require only a swipe on the Accounts button to head back to the main view, but Icebird requires you to simply tap 10 times to head back, if you tapped 10 times to get in that far.

Conclusion
What Icebird brings to the table is a fast interface with minimal visual clutter so that you can focus on taking in content. Instead of filling a nest with all sorts of extra gestures, bottom bars, and buttons, Icebird presents things one screen, and one tap at a time. So if you’re looking for a roomier Twitter experience that embraces minimalism in the same way that other apps embrace features, you’ll want to take a peek at Icebird in the App Store.

Icebird is available for $3.99 on the App Store.
The app was provided by Fabian Kreiser for review on Just Another iPhone Blog. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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